I’m celebrating the release of Mr. Congeniality on Kindle today. It’s a contemporary romance set on the Eagle’s Nest Dude Ranch outside fictional Whistle River, Montana. As part of my celebration, I’ve decided to share five things you may not know about Montana, the state I call home, even though I was born and spent the first three weeks of my life in Utah. Montana is what I remember from childhood. I’ve returned there in several books, and plan to go back in several more.
And now, in no particular order, five things about Montana you might not already know:
Number 1: 46 out of Montana’s 56 counties are considered “frontier counties” with an average population of 6 or fewer people per square mile. That’s very different from places like Manhattan (with a population of 72,033 people per square mile) or Los Angeles (6,999 people per square mile.) In fact, in Montana, the elk and antelope population is larger than the human population. Other than Alaska, I’m not sure any state in the union has more frontier country than Montana. I grew up in Billings, which didn’t feel like “frontier” to me at the time. Now, having lived in other parts of the country, I can better appreciate its small-town charm.
Number 2: Montana is the only state with a triple divide allowing water to flow into the Pacific, Atlantic, and Hudson Bay. This phenomenon occurs at Triple Divide Peak in Glacier National Park. On a personal note, for years, I had memories of driving along a highway with an odd rock guard rail, but could never figure out where that highway was–until my brother and I took my parents back to Montana for a visit in 2003 and I saw Glacier National Park as an adult or the first time. We rounded a curve in the road, and there was the scene I’d remembered from early childhood. It took my breath away. It was on Going to the Sun Road, which is considered one of the most scenic drives in America.
Number 3: Virginia City, Montana was founded in 1863 and is considered to be the most complete original town of its kind in the United States. We visited Virginia City during that trip to Montana, after I had researched it and used it as the setting for Only Time Will Tell. I was thrilled to see that my research had produced visual images for me that were very close to reality. In its hey-day, Virginia City boasted a population of over 10,000 and was the largest town in the inland Northwest. Now, the city boasts a population of 132 very hardy souls.
Number 4: Probably everyone knows that Montana is home to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument where, just south of Billings, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his troops made their last stand. Most Hollywood movies made around real events are dramatized to make them more exciting than the real thing was, but that’s not the case with the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In fact, Hollywood would have to leave out a lot of the blood and gore to make it fit for audiences. Custer was outsmarted and outmaneuvered, that’s for sure. But did you know that after Custer fell (in a spot surrounded by men and dead horses they’d killed and used as a barricade), his men panicked to the point of suicide?
“The white men went crazy. Instead of shooting us, they turned their guns upon themselves. Almost before we could get to them, every one of them was dead. They killed themselves.” – Wooden Leg
I’ve been to the battlefield quite a few times. It’s always hot and dusty, and I always think what a horrible place it would have been to die.
Number 5: Montana is called Big Sky Country for a reason. I don’t know how it is or why it is, but the sky in Montana really is bigger than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Maybe it’s simply because the skyline is unobstructed almost everywhere you look. Maybe the world really does curve a bit more up north, making the sky look almost convex in places. Whatever the cause, the effect is amazing. No picture I’ve ever seen has done it justice.
So there you have it: my list of 5 things you might not have known about Montana. No matter how many years I’ve lived away, Montana is still home in my heart.
My books set in Montana:
- This Montana Home
- Mr. Congeniality
- High Mountain Home
- An Echo in Time
- Only Time Will Tell
- Dead on Arrival